Busy vibrant high streets ‘a distant memory’

Nathan Hopper, owner of Simply Kitchens UK, Plymouth, says the Government must do more to support retailers and help them to breathe new life into our failing high streets


As the British Retail Consortium calls for a further two-year freeze on business rates, it makes me question the credibility of the current rates system.

I feel desperately sorry for a large number of high-street retailers, especially independents, who don’t have large e-commerce operations to fund their ‘shop windows’.  The days of the busy and vibrant high streets for many towns and cities are sadly becoming a distant memory.

Speaking from a business that is under way with the building of a new £1.2 million showroom, I can tell you first-hand how much pressure there is in local government to keep town centres alive. There is a reluctance to grant ‘A1’ retail usage to independent retail business wishing to build or relocate out of town. Strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to apply to national chains, but that’s another story…

My experience over the past three years, while looking to grow our business, has opened my eyes as to how local government needs to evolve and take a look at high streets with a fresh set of eyes. It needs to let go of businesses such as ours, where a high-street location just isn’t going to work for us. Yes, we’re classed as a retailer, but how can you compare a kitchen showroom business looking for a 10,000sq ft showroom with a florist or a coffee shop? Our needs are completely different to theirs and as such should be considered.

Across the UK, there are many examples of some great town and city centres. They show some great diversity and further evidence that, to be successful, the face of the high street has to change and evolve for modern times.  As more mainstream businesses move online and ‘out of town’, their voids need to be filled with niche businesses that attract entrepreneurs  ̶  businesses that really focus on service and personal interaction, that give people cause and a desire to visit the high street once again, businesses that venture into leisure and lifestyle pursuits as more and more of us purchase the day-to-day mundane things online.

The only way that this will happen is if these businesses are given the financial support that they need. For sure, rates relief and freezes on future increases help, but I don’t believe are the answer.

The support has to go further. I am not wishing to burden myself or my peers with increased rates, but for smaller businesses and more specialised retailers, who bring interest to the high street, they need more support.

I believe a more tailored approach should be taken to business rates. It should be something measured in ‘output’ rather than ‘input’.  There are many businesses operating from small premises benefiting from rates relief that are hugely profitable, while on the flip side there are large business spaces, particularly in retail, where the occupiers are struggling to cover costs.

It may be slightly controversial, and I am sure that there will those who disagree with me, but a levy of business rates based upon output and profitability would seem far more sensible. It encourages start-ups, some diversity in the high street and, most importantly, would hopefully inject some much-needed life back into it.

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